Published 30 October 2017 Category: Compass Leisure

The Roots Of Halloween Traditions

If you look into the traditions beyond the supernatural window dressing of Halloween, many of them focus on reinforcing the ties between community members. Ties which would have been vitally important before industrial agriculture with the winter starting and with it the possibilities of food shortages, illness, the approach of storms, etc. - not that they’re any less important now.

The bonfire was the center of the Samhain celebrations in the Celtic lands during the early Christian era. Some traditions had every house in a village extinguish the fires in their own hearths (possibly to make them less inviting to roaming spirits) and relight them with burning embers from the communal bonfire (which they may have brought home in hollowed-out turnips). The message was clear: we’re all in this together.

Another tradition has it that two bonfires should be set up a short distance apart and the villagers’ cattle herded between them for good luck – a tradition also practiced during the midsummer festival/St. John’s Night, so perhaps it was something that was customary at both the midpoint and start of the Celtic year, or just a practice that people began repeating as the original reasons behind it were lost?

Not into bonfires or teaming up for Halloween this year? Here’s something to ponder - A Heat Sensitive Edition of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ That Can Only Be Read by Applying Fire to the Pages wherein the pages of the book appear completely blacked-out as you flip through them. But when heat is applied, using a flame from a lighter, the heat-activated ink disappears and the underlying text is revealed.

Super Terrain, a creative publisher in Europe, is printing up amazing heat sensitive editions of the iconic Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a future in which all books are burned. Playing upon that theme, this particular edition is only made readable by applying fire to the pages. The book will be available through the Super Terrain shop sometime in 2018. International shipping will be available at that time as well.

Not for everyone, but worth collecting; Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, published in 1953. It is regarded as one of his best works. The novel presents a future where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found.

The novel has been the subject of interpretations focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury stated that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time about the threat of book burning in the United States. In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature. Pretty amazing stuff!

The book's tagline explains the title: "Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns..."

…anyway, back to history….

Turnips were originally carved and a candle or glowing ember placed inside. Pumpkins only came along after the New World was settled. There appear to be several stories that explain the “jack-o-lantern.” One is that it was used to carry that burning ember from the bonfire back to a family’s cottage. The other is that the boys who went guising (“disguising”) - the medieval English tradition of going from house to house for soul-cakes (now known as hot cross buns) in return for prayers for the souls of the dead - would carry one, either to light their way or as something that was symbolic of the dead.

Guising (also known in Ireland as “souling”) - which obviously evolved into trick or treating - was common from the middle-ages on, and still goes on in parts of Scotland. Why they needed to be disguised is less clear: perhaps as a protection in case the vengeful dead were looking for you, or perhaps to allow the dead to infiltrate their ranks and enjoy a night of partying as if they were alive once again? Again, the tradition would seem to be something that reinforced social connections and the shared history of the community.

It’s notable that in Ireland and Scotland, treats were given in return for performance (a song or a story) which is in keeping with traditions like the curaid (the circuit) and general respect for storytelling and musicianship.

While there are many versions of the origins and old customs of Halloween, some remain consistent by all accounts. Different cultures view Halloween somewhat differently but traditional Halloween practices remain the same.